STAMFORD, Conn. (CBSNewYork/AP) — A Connecticut woman who has remained mostly quiet in the two years since a raging Christmas Day fire took the lives of her three daughters and parents is opening up about the tragedy in a revealing magazine article.
In a personal memoir in the December issue of Vogue, Madonna Badger details how she continues to cope with the loss of her 7-year-old twins, Grace and Sarah; her 9-year-old, Lily; and her parent,s Lomer and Pauline Johnson.
“The pain is just so huge that sometimes it feels like a prison cell,” Badger wrote. “I go to wherever the light is, because anything else is darkness, and it can be a deeply black darkness.”
In the article, titled “The Long Road Back: How to Keep Going After the Unimaginable Happens,” Badger describes how she desperately tried everything she could to save her girls, but couldn’t because the fire and smoke were too intense.
“Even today I wake up most mornings and I’m back there trying to figure out how to save everyone or what I could have done differently,” Badger wrote.
In the months following the tragedy, Badger fought suicidal thoughts and overcame several stays at psychiatric hospitals.
Slowly with the help of friends and doctors, Badger said, “I was getting my brain back online.”
“I’m still a mom and I’m still my parents’ daughter, just because they’re all gone doesn’t mean that any of that stops and what better way to honor their lives than to not give up?” Badger wrote.
Vogue Senior Editor Corey Seymour worked on the piece with Badger for about a month.
“It was very emotional for her to talk about, to write about,” he told CBS 2’s Andrea Grymes.
“She’s willing to go to the dark parts in order to get to the richer part about getting her life back.”
Next September, Badger will marry longtime friend Bill Dukes, who was one of three people at her bedside in the hours after the tragedy.
They plan to volunteer this Christmas to help children in need. Last Christmas, Badger traveled to Thailand and donated her daughters’ toys to girls at an orphanage.
Giving back helps ease the pain temporarily, she said.
“It’s never going to be easy,” Badger wrote. “But trying really hard to not feel sorry for myself makes me feel good. Being of service helps the pain to go away, if only for a little while, and giving and receiving love makes me feel good.”
Pyschiatrist Dr. Anna Yusim said there’s no timetable for dealing with stages of grief, but learning to live again — even after experiencing the most unimaginable tragedy — is possible.
“If people are able to really open their hearts to love — which she was — able to create good support systems, able to find meaning and purpose, it’s something that everybody actually has the potential to do,” Yusim said.
Investigators determined the fire at the Stamford home was started by improperly discarded fireplace embers. The city determined the cause was accidental.
The magazine issue hits newsstands Nov. 19.
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